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Serbate, o Dei custodi, D35 No 3

Composition exercise; realized from the bass line by Alfred Orel and first printed in 1940 in his Der junge Schubert
author of text

In D35 there are three settings of this text from Metastasio’s La clemenza di Tito – the first two are choral, firstly for four solo voices, and then for chorus (as the poet had intended in his libretto). But Schubert was then assigned the much more sophisticated task of creating a noble aria for tenor in opera seria style. This shows another side of Salieri’s teaching regime for the young Schubert, an extension of the gentle cosseting that had so far required him to construct only melodious little pieces. Many of the arias and ensembles he had written for D17 and D33 could be performed by good amateur singers. But here we have something much longer, and more heroic, and definitely the province of the operatic professional.

At first Schubert was not asked to write accompaniments for any of the exercises undertaken for Salieri; here, however, the piano’s introduction and postlude are both the composer’s own, as well as the vocal and bass lines. The musicologist Alfred Orel made the realisation recorded here. Orel’s commentary on this work, and in particular on Salieri’s many suggestions and improvements, shows that Anton Holzapfel was wide of the mark in depicting the Italian as a lazy and disinterested teacher. On the contrary, he went into great detail in his ‘marking’, and Schubert would have picked up a great deal during these sessions of change and revision. Salieri helped Schubert to achieve what the teenager had not managed before – a large and heroic through-composed aria, difficult to sing certainly, but not stupidly impossible (like some of the earlier ballads). It is well conceived for the larger type of tenor voice, and capable of generating considerable musical excitement. If the melodic invention is nowhere near what we have come to expect of Schubert, it as well to remember that he was writing an exercise in C major celebratory pomp with little room for subtle touches of human feeling.

The choice of text in favour of a heroic emperor may well have been influenced by the political events of the time. Napoleon’s catastrophic lack of success in Russia had re-focused the hopes of Austrians on the Emperor Franz I who was now preparing for the so-called ‘Befreiungskrieg’ – the war of liberation against French domination. Naturally, it would be interesting to know if Schubert knew the Mozart opera at this stage (he certainly never saw a production of it), but one thing is certain: he set this text from Metastasio’s original, not from Mozart’s libretto which uses a shortened version of this choral text. This was because Metastasio’s libretto was adapted by Caterino Mazzola for the Mozart opera’s first performance in Prague in 1791. It is more likely that Salieri knew the text because his teacher Gluck had set it as early as 1752.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 33
CDJ33033Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 10 on CDJ33033 [3'24] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 10 on CDS44201/40 CD2 [3'24] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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